Cautious. Unimaginative. Scared. Spineless. All of those words could have been used to describe England’s performance in Australia over the past three months as they suffered the biggest humiliation in the history of English cricket, and all of those words could also be used to describe the English Cricket Board’s decision to sack Kevin Pietersen, England’s all-time leading run scorer across the three formats, from international cricket.
Some have praised the ECB’s new managing director Paul Downton for taking the ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’ move to ostracise the South African-born batsman from the England set up, yet they are overlooking the fact that for all of Pietersen’s apparent misdemeanors, which have yet to be revealed, his value to the team is unarguably greater than any other player save for captain Alistair Cook, another who is reported to have been in favour of axing Pietersen. An additionally perplexing aspect of the decision is the fact that Cook isn’t even England’s twenty20 captain and may not survive as the country’s one day skipper either, while the favourite for the vacant role of team director is the man who called Pietersen a “million dollar asset”, former England spinner Ashley Giles. Perhaps the decision hints at a coach other than Giles being offered the vacancy yet that would make little sense with interviews for the role yet to be held.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan, the man who brought Pietersen into the international set-up alongside then coach Duncan Fletcher, has criticised the decision and accused the ECB of taking the easy route out of a difficult situation. Simply put, he is right. It may be difficult to harness an awkward personality and integrate him into a successful team environment, but for all the talk of cricket being a team sport it is also one where individuals can find themselves mostly isolated. Ask a fielder on the fine leg boundary if his relationship with mid off is particularly relevant when he’s focusing on a potential catch, or a batsman if he’s concerned about his wicket keeper’s social habits when he’s at the crease. These players are all professionals and it is required of them to do their job to the best of their ability. If they think Kevin Pietersen is arrogant, unfriendly or whatever else it still shouldn’t affect their work. It’s not uncommon for colleagues within an office to dislike each other or not be on friendly terms. Yet until one of them crosses the line in a severe way they are forced to find a way to co-exist. England’s cricketers, from Cook to the likes of Stuart Broad, should be made to follow the same path and they should want to follow the same path if they genuinely harbour ambitions to return to the summit of world cricket following this winter’s humiliation down under.
The cricketing public deserve to know exactly what KP has done if they are to accurately form an opinion on the ECB’s decision to remove him from the international game. England supporters pay to be entertained and they pay to see a competitive on-field product. Paul Downton and co will have a hard time explaining how the axing of Kevin Pietersen, England’s one true match winning talent, won’t dilute that product over the next 24 months.